Cocktail Chatter

The Brain Fag Syndrome, Cuddly Men and Harry Potter Virgins

The week’s most interesting Slate stories.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

A Bad Case of the Brain Fag Syndrome: And other mental problems you probably won’t get in America,” by Jesse Bering. Never heard of koro or Old Hag Syndrome? That’s probably because they fall under the “culture-bound” category in the Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But don’t be fooled, these disorders are more global than we thought. Take, for instance, the Brain Fag Syndrome. It’s a widespread “somatic manifestation of the rather sudden Westernization of African education,” causing headaches and inability to study.

Debtors’ Prison: How Republicans backed themselves into a corner in the debt debate,” by David Weigel. Just like Joker’s scheme to confuse Batman and the police in The Dark Knight was unsuccessful, so is the Republicans’ current attempt to mold the debt debate, writes the author. Until now, Republicans have succeeded in controlling the terms of the rhetoric game, but now there are too many players—Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Michele Bachmann, Sen. Mike Lee—out in the field. Still, Weigel says there’s no question about who will win this battle.

Harry Potter Virgins: Two muggles who never read a page of J.K. Rowling watch the last movie,” by Jessica Grose and John Swansburg. Grose and Swansburg may not know a horcrux from a Blast-Ended Skrewt, but the duo is still pretty sure they understand at least a few Potter particulars. Harry has two buddies, “the ginger and Hermione.” The characters attend a school called Hotchkiss, right?  Oh, and Dumbledore is gay. Ahem. Cringe and cackle as two Slate editors share their pre- and post-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows impressions.

Murdoch to Buy the Daily Prophet: The dark lord of media has his eyes on a magical property,” by Jack Shafer. After the epic downfall of News of the World, Rupert Murdoch is looking for a way to save his empire. While most believe Murdoch’s next doomed takeover plan will involve the daily muggle tabloid The Sun, Shafer’s media sources reveal the real scoop: The Daily Prophet, the “most widely read newspaper in the wizard community,” will become Murdoch’s next horcrux.

Men Are From Cuddle, Women Are From Penis: A new study supposedly says women want sex but men want cuddling. Don’t believe it,” by William Saletan. The Kinsey Institute says promiscuity leads to melancholy and men prefer cuddling. Is it true? Only if you think cuddling means being “sexually touched and caressed by your partner.” After a thorough and cynical inspection of the data, Saletan concludes that the roles of women and men have not miraculously reversed, and sexual relationships are as complex as ever.

Trial by Fury: Jury trials aren’t always satisfying, but they’re better than angry mobs,” by Dahlia Lithwick. The right to trial by jury – a central tenet of American democracy – is under attack. Why? Juries acquitted Casey Anthony for the killing of her two-year-old daughter and didn’t side with alleged rape victim Jamie Leigh Jones. Juries may not get it right all the time, but they still beat “trial by crazed mob, by the media, or by the crown,” Lithwick writes. The criminal trial isn’t simply about seeking justice for the victim. It’s about protecting innocent defendants.

How Facebook Saved My Son’s Life: My social network helped diagnose a rare disease that our doctors initially missed,” by Deborah Copaken Kogan. For days, the author traveled from doctor to doctor with her sick kid. Strep throat, said one. Scarlet fever, diagnosed another. As her son’s condition worsened, the author made an unconventional move: She posted his picture to her Facebook profile. Remarkably, her Facebook “friends” recognized the symptoms of a rare heart-related disease before the doctors did.

Smile, You’re On Everyone’s Camera: Ubiquitious facial-recognition software is coming,” by Farhad Manjoo. Soon, police officers will begin using facial-recognition software. But don’t worry, they’ll only employ it if “officers suspect criminal activity and have no other way to identify a person.” Yeah, right. Don’t believe it, warns the author. It’s only a matter of time before thrusting an iPhone into a stranger’s face will no longer be socially taboo: Once facial-recognition software is commercially available, we can kiss anonymity good-bye for good.

Malta: 10 Days, 6,000 Years of History,” by Happy Menocal and John Swansburg. Tiny Malta, an island flanked by neighbors Sicily and Libya, is “somewhat tacky.” But don’t let the smallest member of the European Union fool you: It has a history of contrast and contradiction dating back 6,000 years. The authors spent ten days exploring Malta’s overwhelming dedication to Catholicism (divorce is illegal), raging parties, obsession with fireworks and Odysseusian visits.  Their adventures are recorded in this illustrated five-part series.